Farmers Markets are on the rise in Mississippi. It’s hard to find a community that doesn’t have a farmers market or produce stand brimming with fresh fruits, vegetables and more. In early 2014, there were more than 81 farmers markets in the state, a sharp increase from just ten years earlier when there were barely a dozen statewide. Now, nearly every county has a market and several have two or more. So what does this dramatic growth in local farmers markets mean for Mississippians? The benefits are three-fold: (1) greater access to more fresh, locally grown, affordable produce for consumers; (2) more outlets for farmers to sell their products directly to the consumer with less loss in cash flow to the handlers and resellers of wholesale markets; and (3) an economic boost to communities from more local dollars kept at home, to increased tourism dollars for small towns and rural areas.
Access to nutrient-rich foods The potential benefits of easy access to fresh, affordable food to the health of Mississippians can’t be overstated. According to nutrition studies, the average American doesn’t even come close to the recommended three servings of fruits and four servings of vegetables per day. In our state, the statistics are worse. The 2014 edition of America’s Health Rankings reports that the average servings of fruits for Mississippians is 1.24 and for vegetables is 1.72, among the lowest in the nation. Despite these depressing numbers, the resurgence of farmers markets and fruit stands across the state is making an abundance of fresh, local produce available to more of the state’s population, particularly in rural communities, and low income urban areas that previously had been veritable food deserts.
Making fresh affordable Many of us are of the generations that embraced the convenience and shelf life of canned and frozen vegetable and fruits, but that convenience sometimes came at the risk of overtaxing our food budgets and limiting our consumption of fresh, uncooked or processed foods. It turns out, pound per pound and bite for bite, fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the best food buys for the nutrition they deliver. It’s estimated that more than half of all fruits and vegetables cost less than 25 cents per serving; 86 percent of all vegetables and 78 percent of all fruits cost less than 50 cents per serving. Compare that to a “supersized” fast food meal and you could eat a veggie plate fit for a king or queen for less than $1.50. For much of the year, Mississippi’s farmers markets make fresh, locally grown produce both accessible and affordable.
How local is local? You’ve probably heard or read about the fresh and local food movement sweeping the country, but what exactly qualifies as “locally grown?” Until recently, it was a nebulous term that was open to broad interpretation. For some, local is a specified radius, such as 50 or 100 miles. For others, it means foods produced in neighboring counties or even neighboring states for communities that lie near the borders of other states. For a number of major grocery store chains, local is considered anything grown within 500 or 1000 miles from the store. In the most extreme cases, local might be described as anything grown in the United States.
Fortunately, Congress passed a bill in 2008, outlining a legal definition of “local.” In essence, it states that to be considered locally grown, the location where the final product is marketed must be less than 400 miles from where the product was grown, or marketed in the state where the product was produced. For practical purposes, most Mississippi farmers markets require produce to be grown within the same county or in neighboring counties, since there may not be enough local growers within one county to support the quantity and variety of products for a farmers market to be successful. That’s important because the more quickly a product reaches the market after it is harvested significantly effects its nutritional value and the amount of energy consumed to bring it to its final destination.
Getting to know your food and your farmers. Shopping at a farmers market makes us feel more connected to the food we eat and to the people who grow it. For those of us who have spent years selecting our produce under artificial light, while listening to piped in music and periodic announcements of sales and specials, a trip to the farmer’s market is a welcome change and an opportunity to get in touch with the when, where and how our food is grown. We get the pleasure of choosing produce for our family tables directly from the farmers who planted, tended and harvested it just miles from where we will enjoy it. It’s also a great way to introduce our kids to new foods and give them a wide range of healthy choices. There is so much variety at Mississippi farmers markets it is easy to be inspired to try new and colorful selections, bringing great taste and outstanding nutrition to family meals.
dig deeper Check out the Mississippi Farmers Market Cookbook: Fresh Not Frozen, published by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. The recipe below is just one of many great healthy recipes included in the cookbook that uses fresh ingredients available at the Mississippi Farmers Market. To order the cookbook, visit www. mdac.ms.gov/bureaus-departments/farmers-market/farmers-market-cookbook.
[Tomato, Corn, Basil & Prawn Salad]
4 ears fresh corn, shucked
Salt (We like sea salt.)
1 ½ pounds freshwater prawns, shelled (Substitute Gulf shrimp if prawns are not available)
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or vinegar of your choice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound ripe tomatoes dice to about ¼” pieces
2 fresh or pickled jalapenos (about 3 tablespoons – seeded and minced)
2 green onions (about ¼ cup minced)
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped (or dried basil to taste)
5 ounces mixed baby greens, washed & dried
Instructions: Bring large pot of unsalted water to a boil over high heat. Add the corn and cook for 3 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Salt the water generously and return it to a boil. Add prawns and cook for about 3 minutes or until opaque. Drain and immerse in ice water to stop cooking. Drain and refrigerate. In medium bowl, combine lemon juice and vinegar with ½ teaspoon salt and a little pepper. Whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream. Slice the corn off the cob and add. Add the tomatoes, jalapenos, onions and basil. Toss gently. Adjust seasonings to taste. Mix in the chilled prawns and refrigerate. Before serving tilt the marinated veggies and prawns to capture reserved dressing. Toss over the baby greens. Divide salad evenly among 4 plates with the baby greens on one side and the prawns and veggie mixture on the other and serve. From Dolores Fratesi of Lauren Farms, Leland, MS